Prior to last Thursday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma announced that Penguins leading scorer Sidney Crosby would miss the evening’s game with what was then an undisclosed injury.
Shortly after, the Penguins revealed that Crosby would be out for a week with a mild concussion.
Not to worry though, right? The Penguins were coming off an 8-1 thumping of the Tampa Bay Lightning the night before. Chris Kunitz had a hat trick and Marc-Andre Fleury was looking unstoppable.
Unfortunately, that night, the Penguins lost to the Canadiens in a shootout where the Habs scored the only goal of the shootout.
From there, it only got worse.
The Penguins were shutout on home ice against the Minnesota Wild by a score of 4-0. Last night, they lost their grip on a 2-0 third-period lead, and a shutout for Marc-Andre Fleury, when the Boston Bruins scored four goals in the final 3:11 to win 4-2.
Suddenly, the Penguins were 0-3 with Crosby out of the lineup recovering from the first concussion of his NHL career.
Now, I’m sure there are many of you Penguins faithful sitting at your computer saying there is no need to worry.
"The Penguins will be fine," you are telling yourself.
"It’s only January," you add.
"You are just a pessimist," you want to write in the comments section.
Maybe I am a pessimist, but I think it is valid to wonder why this team cannot perform without Crosby.
In the 2007-2008 campaign, Crosby missed 21 games with a high ankle sprain.
In that stretch, the Penguins went 11-6-2-2.
Crosby returned to the lineup March 4 of that season, but he ended up missing seven more games after he felt his ankle hadn’t fully healed. In those next seven games, the Penguins went 5-2 for a combined record of 16-8-2-2 during Sid’s absence.
In 2008-2009, Crosby missed four games with a groin injury. The Penguins were undefeated while he was healing.
So what is the problem now?
We don't need to look any further than Crosby’s teammates.
When Crosby was injured in previous seasons, he had teammates such as Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar who could step in and fill important roles on the team.
Those players are gone, and now, his current teammates are lacking something that keeps them from doing their best without him.
When one of your goals in tonight’s defeat comes from Mike Rupp (who has all of four goals this year), you have a problem.
Evgeni Malkin is not the player he once was.
He has 35 points this season and is nowhere near the top forward he is supposed to be. He is merely average. In Crosby’s absence, he has just one assist and a minus-five rating.
Remember how Kunitz had a hat trick on Wednesday? He hasn’t had a point since the Tampa Bay victory and also posts a dismal minus-five.
Tyler Kennedy, who could be on the block if he does not improve his performance, has a plus-two rating, but has not gotten on the scoreboard.
No one is stepping up to fill Crosby’s void.
The Penguins certainly have the talent to provide at least some of the offense Crosby does. I am not insisting that any player start a 25-game point streak of their own, but someone has to start putting points on the board. Someone has to set up a play or take a shot at the net.
When the Penguins had a two-goal lead late in the third period last night and Fleury was headed for his second shutout, there was no excuse for allowing four goals in three minutes.
I’ll grant you the fact that Crosby was in the lineup when the Penguins dropped the 4-2 lead back in November to this same Boston team, but his teammates were lacking personal responsibility in their latest outing.
Defenseman Alex Goligoski said in a post-game interview that the Penguins never felt they were in any danger of losing the game, despite the fact that Boston was pressuring them in that later part of the third.
Crosby would have never sounded that ignorant in front of the press.
Right now, the Penguins are missing their captain, but they are also experienced enough to have another player step up and take the lead in his absence.
Ideally, it should be Malkin, but Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke are examples of other players capable of getting the Penguins through until Crosby returns.
It is dangerous for any team to depend too much on one player, and the Penguins' recent struggles show they could be headed in the direction of having a Sidney Crosby Show once he returns.